The 49ers will always hold a special place in the heart of Rams coach Sean McVay, even if he has to try to beat them twice a year.
McVay, after all, is the grandson to San Francisco’s former general manager John McVay, who worked closely with Bill Walsh to assemble some of the greatest teams in NFL history. John has rings from all five of the 49ers’ championships, including their most recent title in 1994, which Sean remembers fondly.
“I had Deion (Sanders’) jersey in ’94 when he won Defensive Player of the Year the year they won the Super Bowl,” said Sean McVay in a conference call with reporters this week.
“I can remember just getting a chance to see Steve (Young) operate and always had so much respect for Jerry (Rice). I remember even when I was a little kid when the Niners and Falcons were in the same division, I sat with Jesse Sapolu on the team bus over to the Saturday walk through before they played the Falcons and driving over to the Georgia Dome. I used to be a huge fan of Dexter Carter as a returner, Merton Hanks – I mean shoot, I feel like I could name all those guys.”
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McVay, 32, is the youngest coach in the NFL. He turned 9 just five days before San Francisco hoisted its fifth Lombardi Trophy in Miami following Super Bowl XXIX and the 1994 season. Members of that team will be on hand for alumni weekend on Sunday, while the 49ers honor Dwight Clark with a statue in the team’s northwestern plaza at Levi’s Stadium.
The statue will feature Clark leaping for Joe Montana’s pass commemorating “The Catch” from the NFC title game against the Cowboys in January 1982. Clark’s statue will be 23 yards away from a Montana statue with raised arms celebrating the touchdown.
The game was originally planned to showcase the 49ers history on a national stage against arguably the NFL’s best team. But the game between San Francisco (1-5) and the undefeated Rams (6-0) was “flexed” out of the NBC primetime slot a week ago, with the NFL choosing a the match up between the Chiefs (5-1) and Bengals (4-2) instead. The 49ers will still wear their all-white throwback uniforms from that 1994 season, which will include their old logo on their helmets.
Sunday’s game will also revisit the rivalry between Sean McVay and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. The two grew close while both on Washington’s staff from 2010 to 2013. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator while McVay coached tight ends and later took over after Shanahan left for Cleveland in 2014.
The two coaches run similar offenses and McVay credits Shanahan for heavily influencing his system. The Rams have the league’s top offense, averaging 464 yards per game.
“The way that he prepared was so impressive,” McVay said of Shanahan. “The way that he saw the game – I think his ability to make things look the same, to attack defenses, structures and rules and manipulate some of their things. He’s great coach. And I learned so much from him in terms of just being committed to an identity so your players know what they stand for, but also having enough variation that you got some unpredictability to what you’re trying to get done. ... You just kind of observe that, and I learned just so much football, both offensively and defensively from him. I’m forever indebted for that.”
Ward, Pettis appear unlikely to play – The 49ers held their first normal practice of the week on Thursday following their Wednesday walk through. They switched the schedule to allow for extra recuperation following the Monday night game in Green Bay.
The only two players to miss practice Thursday were receiver Dante Pettis (knee) and defensive back Jimmie Ward (hamstring). Pettis hasn’t played since tweaking his knee Sept. 30 against the Chargers. Ward made his third start of the season against the Packers but left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.
Limited in Thursday’s practice – Running back Matt Breida (shoulder, ankle), receiver Pierre Garcon (shoulder, knee), tight end George Kittle (knee), guard Mike Person (knee), center Weston Richburg (knee), cornerback Richard Sherman (calf), left tackle Joe Staley (knee), receiver Trent Taylor (back), cornerback K’Waun Williams (shoulder), and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (concussion).
Williams and Witherspoon were sporting blue non-contact uniforms during Thursday’s practice.